Half a dozen students and two University staff members sat around a table in the Rockefeller College common room on a Friday afternoon in early December, discussing the mysteries of the Dance Floor Make-Out.

The group, all male by design, was one of several tables having conversations as part of the Alcohol Coalition Committee’s fall workshop on gender, sexual assault, and alcohol. Dana Weinstein ’12, who helped plan the event, said the goal was to allow students to explore topics that are “rarely, if ever, spoken about in an open manner” and foster future conversations about sex and alcohol.  

The men at the table had been asked to define “consent”; their conversation naturally focused on the Street, the ultimate confluence of sex and alcohol for students. One senior (PAW agreed to the organizers’ requirement that students could be identified only by gender and class) said it often was difficult for men to interpret what, if anything, an encounter at an eating club meant.

“A lot of males are utterly incompetent about reading clues,” he said.  

This kind of anthropological investigation of a night out at Princeton was a constant feature of the conversation — trying to figure out how the social scene works, and when and why things go wrong. Later in the afternoon, the all-male table paired up with an all-female counterpart. Those from the women’s table noted that their perspective of a night out at Princeton changed as they got older.

“Freshman girls believe that the Street is a good place to start a relationship,” said a sophomore woman. “They’re more likely to go farther sexually because there’s an expectation of commitment.”

Though rigorously discussed and explored, the eating clubs were not demonized in the conversations. Anita McLean, director of Counseling and Psychological Services, made it clear in her opening comments that the event coordinators understood the central role of the Street in Princeton’s social scene.

The eating clubs “offer more than free beer,” McLean said. “They offer an incredible opportunity to connect with people, a sense of belonging, and relationships that will carry on to Wall Street, the White House, [and] the Pentagon.”

English professor Jeff Nunokawa, master of Rockefeller College, called the conjunction of sex and alcohol “potent” and “irresistible,” but cautioned against its dangers.